By now you have probably figured out that you have very limited cell service at your camp and/or that you will be asked to turn off your phone while working with campers. In the technological world we now live in, it is hard to imagine life (even for a few hours) without it. I recently went shopping online for a new phone and was blown away by the number of "apps" at our fingertips (over 200,000 for the iPhone alone!). As they say, there are apps for "appsolutely" everything! There are apps for the cook, the music lover, the traveler . . . you name it, and it is out there.
Whether you are about to embark on your inaugural summer as a counselor or you are a veteran to camp life, you might secretly wish for a hypothetical smartphone fully equipped with the necessary apps to use specifically for your work with campers. What apps would you choose to assist you in your role as a cabin/bunk counselor or day camp group leader, in program activities, during overnights and off-camp trips, or when comforting a homesick camper?
Last summer, I asked several groups of camp staff that very question during orientation training, and gave them the task to design their very own smartphone — one that could be used as a resource for the job they were about to do.
One group wanted to install a CGPS, a Camper Global Positioning System, so that they would know the whereabouts of their campers at all times. This group of camp staff even went so far as to have campers color-coded so that they were identifiable by their group — and the CGPS would notify them should someone stray away from where they were supposed to be. This app would then mark campers as blue or pink at night so that boys and girls were certain to remain in their own areas after taps. Other ideas generated by camp staff were to have the updated camp schedule available at the touch of a button, a database with all camper names and general information, an app with first aid protocols, the ability to generate indoor/outdoor games for any age or group size, an app to identify the flora and fauna found at camp (especially if known to be poisonous), and a help button for immediate access to the directors / maintenance staff should there be an emergency. Interestingly, the very apps that these camp staff wanted to have "installed" on their custom-made smartphone would be the topics of discussion for upcoming training sessions throughout the orientation period.
The Camp Version
Whether or not you are given the opportunity to configure your own smartphone with these resources prior to the arrival of your campers, a camp version of this metaphorical handheld device — along with several popular apps and corresponding activity resources — will be shared here for your use this summer.
First on the list is Facebook because of the opportunities for friendships to form while at camp. Another important app is LinkedIn, as campers will be trying to see how they fit into a group. The search engine Google will be useful when looking for the unique qualities found in your campers. For this smartphone configuration, iTunes will be available so that you can tune in and listen to your campers as well as instant messenger (IM) because you will need to effectively communicate with those in your care. Also found in the app library is The Weather Channel, so that you are able to anticipate and set expectations for campers about where they will need to be and what they will be doing. A Gumby app will be at your fingertips for those unexpected opportunities when you will need to be flexible. Finally, Twitter will help with knowing your role at any given minute so that you can be intentional during the different times of a typical camp day.
Most of you probably already have and use Facebook on your own smartphone. The camp version of this app is to facilitate the formation of friendships within your camper group. Campers will have immediate opportunities to "friend" others, and may need your help to know what to "post on their wall" or put out there for fellow campers to see. Brad Paisley's (2007) lyric, "I'm so much cooler online," comes to mind, as campers are put in the often awkward situation of meeting others without the comfort and protection of being anonymous behind their computer screen. It will be your job to assist campers during the introduction process — having several name games or icebreakers in mind is a great way for a newly-formed group to get to know one another. One idea is to have campers introduce themselves as their favorite superhero. They can include their character's name, costume preference, special powers, battle cry, and their sidekick, if it is desirable to have one (Biech, 2008, p. 27). This activity is a safe way for campers to exchange surface information and begin to know the other members of their camp group.
As you will soon discover, campers rapidly begin to figure out their position within a group upon arrival to camp. Campers are quick to form first impressions and size up their place or pecking order. Your role as counselor is to aid campers with this process so that they can be LinkedIn with the other members of their cabin/bunk/tent group, day camp group, activity group, etc. LinkedIn, by design, is a networking tool to help people expand their connections and bring together those with like-minded ideas. Giving campers opportunities to find out what they have in common with each other instead of focusing on what may appear to be noticeable physical differences will allow them to make connections they might not have made on their own.
A quick way to bring campers together is to introduce the art of "Knuckle Jousting." Place a tape roll on each camper's knuckles (sticky side out) and then have two campers make tape-to-tape contact. On the count of three, campers separate and the person without any tape now cheers for the other person (forming a train behind the person with tape) when facing additional opponents until there is an overall "winner" — and one long train (Cain, Hannon, & Knobbe, 2009, p. 96). Another exercise has campers form a pair with someone they do not know very well and have them try to discover three to four things that they both have in common that are not physical characteristics (both have blue eyes) or obvious responses (both are at Camp "X"). Examples: Both campers have two brothers, a pet hamster, or like to ride roller coasters. It is also fun to combine two groups of two into groups of four to see if the larger group can find commonalities. How about trying a group of eight or more (Cummings, 2007, p. 12)?
When using Google or other comparable search engines, it is amazing to me how quickly thousands of results are found in less than a second. Sometimes I am able to find what I am looking for on the first link that shows up in a long list of possibilities. However, there are other times that I have to click on multiple options to come up with the necessary information. I also find myself refining a search to be more specific so that I can zoom in on the link that will provide the answer. In a similar fashion, for some campers, it will take no time at all for you to discover what is special about them because they are outgoing and have a likeable personality. However, there may also be campers who are shy and less likely to share much about themselves, so it can be more challenging to get to know them on a personal level. You may have to dig deeper to find something unique about each person in your group or refine your search to explore other avenues that will lead you to that discovery.
A great way to facilitate this search is to use an activity with your group that allows campers to contribute personal information with each other in a non-threatening way. A modified version of the Cranium game, Whoonu, is a way to do just that, and it can be played with groups of varying sizes (for more information, visit www .cranium.com). One person is designated as the Whoozit and with the options of bubble-gum, climbing trees, knitting, or pinball machines, (for example), all players (except the Whoozit) choose the one thing they think the Whoozit would pick as his/her most favorite from the list of four. Meanwhile, the Whoozit ranks the list in order from least to most favorite and when all are ready, shares the answers out loud in that order. One point is earned by any player who chose the Whoozit's least favorite item up to four points for guessing the person's most favorite item. Play continues using different "lists" until each player has a chance to be the Whoozit, and the winner is the person with the most overall points. More importantly are the conversations that occur during the game — for instance: "Who knew that Jane likes to knit? Did you know that Kate recently learned how to knit and is making a pair of socks? Maybe the two of you can teach our cabin group how to knit while we are at camp!"
iTunes and IM
When most of us think of "tuning in," it usually requires some sort of headphones or watching a program on TV or other technological device. I am reminded of a picture I have of my oldest nephews (ages ten and eleven) at a restaurant where they each have an ear bud from a set of headphones and are playing a game on their PSP (Play Station Portable) while waiting for our food to arrive. Downloading iTunes and IM for your use as a counselor will assist you with the art of listening to and communicating with your campers in face-to-face conversations. You can show campers you are really "tuning in" to them by using active listening techniques, such as stopping what you are doing, getting on their level, making eye contact, nodding and smiling occasionally, summarizing or rephrasing the main points of what is being said, paying attention to nonverbal communication cues you are sending, etc. It is equally important to encourage campers to do the same when they are talking with each other. A fun way to instill this message with your camper group is to use an activity called, "Do as I Say, Not as I Do." The first person in the group SAYS one thing he/she likes ("I like to jump up and down"), but DOES another (flaps his/her arms). The second person DOES what was just SAID (jumps up and down), but SAYS something he/she likes ("I like to rock climb"). This pattern continues around the circle. (The Web site www.ultimatecampresource.com  has more information.)
The IM app is to help you find ways to effectively communicate with your campers and can be accomplished by asking questions that will elicit more than just a yes or no response. For general conversation starters, ask questions to individual campers such as: What has been the highlight of your day? What are you most looking forward to tomorrow? What was your favorite part about last night's campfire? These are good to use as they promote focusing on the positive aspects of the camp experience. You may also find yourself needing to ask questions as a way to help a camper resolve an issue: Was that the result you wanted? Are there other ways to solve the problem? What do you think is the best way to handle the situation? In what ways can I be most helpful to you right now? These may be useful problem solving questions. (Questions adapted from Vannoy, 1994, pp. 65, 105.)
A tried and true way to promote communication in a group setting is to write questions using a permanent marker on an inflated beach ball. Campers toss the ball around (you can use music) until told to stop. Whoever has the ball looks at the question closest to his/her right thumb and reads aloud and answers for the group. For example: If you could have a roundtrip ride in a time machine and travel any distance into the past or future, where would you want to go (Stock, 2004, p. 6)? The ball acts like a "talking stick" and the expectation can be set ahead of time that only the person with the ball has permission to speak. Continue tossing the ball around to give more campers a chance to answer a question. (This is a similar idea to "thumballs," found at www.trainingwheels.com .)
The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel is a popular app as it gives the weather forecast for what is happening now and what can be expected hourly, in the next thirty-six hours, and in the next ten days. The camp version of this app is to aid you in setting expectations with campers so that they become familiar with the camp routine for a typical day. Briefly outlining your expectations for wake-up, clean-up, program activities, mealtimes, rest hour, overnights, off-camp trips, and so on, can ease the anxiety of the unknown and will make for a smooth transition from home to camp. This will also minimize the "Are we there yet?" kinds of questions campers may ask you! Of course, you will need to follow camp policies and include co-counselors in making these decisions so that, as staff, you are on the same page and consistent with each other. As the weather forecast often changes when more information becomes available, it is likely that you will need to evaluate and adjust your expectations for various situations.
The Gumby App
The Gumby app has been pre-installed on your smartphone for those times when being flexible is key to your sanity this summer. It may be impossible to teach someone to be flexible, but rather, it may be helpful if you are aware of times when you will be called on to "be Gumby" as a counselor and adapt to any changes that come your way. Veteran staff can verify that you may need to use "plan B" because the weather is bad; a technical difficulty with equipment arises; a planned activity takes ten minutes to complete and you thought it would last for an hour; you have a longer than anticipated wait for the bus to depart/ arrive; there is a last minute change in the program schedule; etc. These are just a few times when you may be called on to be flexible. Practicing flexibility with your campers is also important to help them adapt to any change of plans that may occur while at camp — in addition to providing them with a skill they will be called upon to use frequently in the "real world." "Change That Tune" is an activity that can be used to demonstrate this very idea by having small groups pick a short song that everyone knows and then challenging them to sing the old song to a new tune and rhythm (Biech, 2008, p. 379).
Twitter is a way to share what is going on in your world with others in real time. Imagine that you are able to tweet this summer about what you are doing at any point in the camp day. Your tweets may look something like this:
7:44 a.m. Getting up before campers — it's great to feel responsible.
8:06 a.m. "Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory . . ."
8:26 a.m. Breakfast and cup of coffee — yum!
9:02 a.m. Facilitated clean-up of living area — we better get the "Golden Broom Award"!
9:28 a.m. Off to teach three periods of tennis — hope the campers like playing "King of the Court."
12:25 p.m. Meeting campers for lunch . . . it is Wednesday, so my guess is we are having pizza.
1:32 p.m. Playing card game with campers for rest hour — RUCKUS rocks!!!
2:30 p.m. Free period — I can finally enjoy my run.
5:29 p.m. Back from two periods of archery — great fun as always.
5:58 p.m. Looking forward to hearing about each camper's day at dinner. I wonder if Katherine got up on water skis?
7:10 p.m. Dressed in blue — ready to play capture the flag!
8:24 p.m. Milk and cookies — always a good way to end the day.
9:31 p.m. Just heard "Taps" . . . time to read a bedtime story to campers and get some shut eye!
Regardless of what camp you call home or the details of your daily schedule, you can make it a great summer by being deliberate every moment of the day with the choices you make regarding your time spent with campers. If you are actively and PMintentionally involved with your campers in most everything you do, from "Reveille" to "Taps," you and your campers will be well on the way to having an awesome and life-changing summer.
During your time off, you may find that your real cell phone works at camp only if you are standing on the athletic field with one finger in your ear while facing the soccer goal. It is good to know that you never have to worry about getting a signal from the smartphone configured for your use this summer as outlined in this article. The apps and resources you choose to "download" and "install" will supplement the valuable training you will receive prior to the campers' arrival and can be accessed without ever having to turn on a single handheld device. It is important to know that your smartphone is also equipped with a "help button" that can be activated if you find yourself in need of assistance during the upcoming months. The directors, head-counselors, and other leadership staff at your camp, in addition to your fellow counselors, are excellent resources who can help you do your best job possible this summer . . . all you have to do is ask for this free app!
Biech, E., ed. (2008). Trainer's warehouse book of games: Fun and energizing ways to enhance learning. San Francisco, CA: Pffeifer Publishing.
Cain, J., Hannon, C.M., & Knobbe, D. (2009). Essential staff training activities. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Cummings, M. (2007). Playing with a full deck: 52 team activities using a deck of cards! Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Paisley, B. (2007). Online. On 5th Gear [CD]. Nashville, TN: Arista Nashville.
Stock, G. (2004). The kids' book of questions: revised for the new century. Ontario, Canada: Thomas Allen & Son, Limited.
Vannoy, S. (1994) The 10 greatest gifts I give my children: Parenting from the heart. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Kim Aycock, M.S.T., has twenty-five years of experience blending the skills of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert. She trains camp staff at all levels and speaks professionally at regional and national conferences. More information can be found on her Web site: